Oct 29, 2007
One in four, or 25% of Indian women do not get any form of payment for their work, compared to only 5% of Indian men, according to the results of the newly-published findings of India’s third National Family Health Survey (NFHS-III) released on October 11.
India’s most comprehensive health and social indicators survey ever, which interviewed 1.25 lakh women and 75,000 men aged 15-59 across 29 Indian states and the national capital New Delhi, in 2005-2006, found extreme gender disparities with regard to participation in the workforce and compensation.
It also provides valuable insight into the role that age plays in women’s employability, and sharp regional, community and religious disparities in women’s employment as well as the extent of working women’s financial empowerment.
Nationally, 43% of currently married women, aged 15-49, are employed, compared to almost 99% of married men, 92% of whom get cash wages for their labour, NFHS-III reported. Only 51% work exclusively for cash wages while 13% receive payment in both cash and kind.
Women aged 35-39 were found to be most likely to be employed and least likely not to receive any cash wages. Nonetheless, even in this age-group, one in five women does not receive cash payment for the work.
Kamla Gupta from the International Institute of Population Sciences, Mumbai, one of the 18 research institutes that conducted the NFHS says: “Employment among currently married women increases from 31% in the age-group 15-19, to 50% in the age-group 35-39, and then declines to 45% in the oldest age-group. In contrast, employment among married men does not vary across states. In all states, 96% or more married men were employed.”
Among employed women, those aged 15-19 were least likely to be employed for cash only (39%) and also most likely to be employed in work for which they don’t receive any form of compensation.
More tellingly, one in six working women nationwide has no say in how her earnings are spent, with her husband or in-laws making the decision for her. Even in the oldest age-group of working women, the wealthiest and the most highly educated, only between 28-31% said they decided how to spend their wages.
Even in states where at least three out of four employed married women earn in cash, like Kerala (91%), Tamil Nadu (90%), Goa (83%), Assam (85%) and West Bengal (83%), women don’t have control over their earnings.
However, the level of financial control over one’s earnings did vary according to religion if not by region, the NFHS found. Among Buddhists and Hindus, the husband was more likely to have a greater say in how his wife’s earnings were spent (15%-16%). By contrast, Muslim and Jain women enjoyed a greater level of financial empowerment than other communities, with up to 38% saying they had a major say in how their wages were spent.
“Financial empowerment also requires control over the use of one’s earnings. When women in the survey were asked who decides how the money they earn will be spent, only 24% who earned said they decided on their own what to do with the money they earned, while 57% said their husbands had a major say. For 15%, the husband single-handedly made that decision,” says Gupta.
Freedom of movement was also a luxury for most of the women surveyed. While only about half were allowed to go shopping or to a health facility alone, only 38% were allowed to travel unaccompanied outside their city or village.
40% of Indian women face domestic violence
Over 40% of Indian women have experienced domestic violence at some point in their married lives, and nearly 55% think that spousal abuse is warranted in several circumstances, the survey says.
NFHS-III found that just over a third of women who had been married at any point in their lives said they had been pushed, slapped, shaken or otherwise attacked by their husbands at least once.
Slapping was the most common act of physical violence by husbands. More than 34% of women said their husbands slapped them, while 15% said their husbands pulled their hair or twisted their arm. Around 14% of the women had things thrown at them.
The NFHS-III also states that an overwhelming majority of women who reported domestic violence were first assaulted by their husbands less than two years into their marriage. According to the figures, 62% experienced physical or sexual violence within the first two years of marriage, while 32% experienced violence in the first five years.
India’s latest survey also found that one in six wives had been emotionally abused by their husbands, while one in 10, or 10%, have experienced sexual violence like marital rape on at least one occasion.
Low levels of education clearly play a major role in this horrifying trend - over 47% of women who reported domestic violence had no education, compared with 12% among women with 12 or more years of education. The figure was 16% for women who had completed high school.
According to the NFHS figures, domestic violence is most common in Bihar - the percentage of abused women is 59%, with 63% of incidents reported among urban women. Bihar was followed by Rajasthan (46.3%), Madhya Pradesh (45.8%), Manipur (43.9%), Uttar Pradesh (42.4%), Tamil Nadu (41.9%), and West Bengal (40.3%).
Meanwhile, the tiny, ‘less developed’ but highly progressive hill state of Himachal Pradesh reported the lowest incidence of abuse by husbands - a mere 6%.
Women belonging to scheduled caste and scheduled tribe communities reportedly experienced the most spousal abuse, with one in three reporting having been beaten by their husbands.
Ironically, Buddhist women reported the highest levels of violence (41%) followed by Muslim and Hindu women (34%-35%) and Sikh and Christian women (26%-28%). Women from the Jain community reported the lowest levels of violence - 13%.
With regard to attitudes to domestic violence, the NFHS found that 41% of women thought that husbands were justified in slapping their wives if the latter showed disrespect to their in-laws. Meanwhile, a substantial 35% of women thought they deserved a brutal beating at the hands of their spouses if they neglected doing the household chores or looking after their children.
Given this attitude towards domestic violence from the victims themselves, it is unsurprising that nearly 51% of the 75,000 Indian men surveyed think hitting or beating their wives is acceptable for certain reasons, particularly if she disrespects her in-laws. A smaller number think bad cooking or refusing sex are reasons for physically assaulting their wives.
Commenting on NFHS findings on the widespread social acceptability of gender-based physical abuse by a partner, Dr Sulabha Parasuraman of the International Institute of Population Studies (IIPS) says the attitude of Indian women is “truly shocking”. “Men are brought up being taught that beating up their wives isn’t wrong, while women are told that being assaulted by their husbands is acceptable. Girls are taught that they can be punished by their husbands for disobedience. This social attitude has to change immediately.”
The IIPS spearheaded the survey on domestic violence for the NFHS that was jointly conducted by 18 organisations.